How The Delta Variant Affects Hybrid Workplace IT Strategies for Small to Medium-Sized Enterprises

Written by Kate Lake on August 23, 2021

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While the coronavirus sent most companies into remote or hybrid work, it was viewed by many as temporary. However, the emergence of the Delta variant has already derailed many plans to go back into the office. To explore these changes, JumpCloud surveyed 502 small to medium-sized enterprises’ (SMEs) decision-makers in the U.S. and U.K., including managers, directors, vice presidents, C-level executives, and owners, on how the Delta variant has affected their plans for remote or hybrid-remote work.

The survey findings show that the Delta variant has changed many SMEs’ remote work strategies, pushing them to take a more permanent remote work approach with a more salient emphasis on health safety measures in the workplace. 

In this article, we’ll outline how the Delta variant changed SMEs’ plans for remote and hybrid remote work, increased the role of health safety in the workplace, and has elongated and increased the permanence of the work-from-anywhere model in SMEs. 

The Increasing Permanence of Remote and Hybrid Remote Work 

In 2020, the transition to remote work was quick, haphazard, and widespread: only 14% of SMEs never went remote. At the outset, most companies saw remote and hybrid workplaces as a temporary fix — and, as vaccines rolled out and social distancing and masks became commonplace, many companies did eventually return to work. Since the onset of the pandemic, 36.9% of U.S. and U.K. SMEs have gone back into the office, and many more had plans to return to in-person work in the near future. 

The emerging Delta variant, however, has altered these plans as more and more businesses rethink, delay, or outright cancel their plans to return to the office. In fact, 70% of SMEs now plan to offer a work-from-home option indefinitely.  The remote and hybrid-work world, which was initially believed to last a week or so, is now becoming a permanent solution.

How Did We Get Here? 

When businesses first went remote, many weren’t prepared, and many couldn’t conceive of an indefinitely remote environment. So, what changed? 

In short, companies pivoted quickly to adopt the technology they needed to power remote work. And, once they had worked out the major kinks and formed a strong IT foundation, the timeline to get back to the office became a lot less pressing. Companies adapted, and employees followed suit. In fact, many employees started to find they were more productive at home — at a much lower cost to the employer. 

As companies started gaining the capacity to go back into the office, many did so in a hybrid model. This further increased flexibility, allowing employees to collaborate safely in-person when needed without over-populating offices or removing the flexibility of remote work they had granted workers. Many companies see hybrid-remote work as a best-of-both-worlds long-term solution that’s capable of bridging the gap between the flexibility of remote work with the benefits of in-person collaboration. With this hybrid-remote option, many employees and employers have struck a balance.

Striking Harmony Among Employees and Employers

The JumpCloud survey revealed fairly strong differences in sentiment towards remote work plans based on region. This held true for both the U.S. and the U.K. In the United States, 67.9% of companies surveyed stated they are taking steps regarding mandating vaccinations for employees; however, only 56.1% of organizations in Southern states (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, WV) are doing so, while that number jumps to 82% of organizations based in the Northeastern states (CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT).

 The U.K. was even more split: 72.8% of SMEs in Greater London are taking steps to mandate vaccinations, whereas only 44.9% in the rest of the U.K. are.

Fortunately, however, most employees agreed with their companies’ future plans regarding in-office work, whether it was to go back to the office or delay their return: 80.5% of respondents agreed with their company’s plans around remote/hybrid work. 

These sentiments reflect the increasing need for a hybrid workplace model: 44% of the respondents above felt there was no reason to delay going back to the office, while 36.5% of the respondents felt they wanted to continue working remotely.

This could be a reflection of similar regional ideologies — because the shift to remote work took place less than two years ago, some employees are likely still at the same company they worked at before the pandemic, and may hold the same regional preferences. However, as remote work continues and the workplace becomes more dispersed, there will likely be less agreement among employees and employers around in-office policies. The hybrid-remote model bridges this gap by providing employees the option to do either, enabling employees to work comfortably in the way that works best for them. 

Bringing Health Safety into the Workplace

The sudden rise of the Delta variant has forced many SMEs to rethink their strategies to reopen their office doors; this includes not just when to return to the office, but what health and safety standards should be implemented or mandated in order to do so. Many feel that their remote work model is operating well enough to delay reopenings all together, with 30% of respondents delaying a return to the office until September; 16.3% until October; 18.8% until November or later; and 35% without a firm timeline at all. 

But no matter when offices reopen, employees will likely see new policies enacted to combat further spread of the virus. For those who have made changes to their return-to-work plans, this includes: 

  • Requiring social distancing in the workplace (59.2%)
  • Limiting the number of people in the workspace at one time (57.4%)
  • Requiring masks or PPE (54.3%)
  • Upgrading air filters or HVAC equipment (43.8%)
  • Altering the workplace with physical dividers (41.9%)

Some SMEs are even going so far as to identify ways to encourage vaccinations as a strategy to increase health and safety standards within their physical offices, though policies involving vaccination status are more varied based on regionality. 

Whether mandating vaccinations or implementing incentive programs to do so (by offering paid time off to get and recover from a vaccination, to granting holidays or even cash payments to those who have received a vaccine), the fact is that a large majority of SMEs are embracing the reality that remote work, either permanently or in a hybrid workplace model, is here to stay.

Embracing the Reality of Permanent Remote Work Options

“SMEs continue to exhibit great resourcefulness, flexibility, and initiative in responding to the pandemic and the Delta variant,” said Rajat Bhargava, CEO of JumpCloud. “As an SME ourselves, we know the current conditions are extremely fluid, and like the majority of respondents, we had to rethink and delay our office return and hybrid workplace options.”

After 18 months of the pandemic, the Delta variant made it clear to the world that the novel coronavirus we’ve experienced thus far is not done, and its effects on how we live and work together should be looked at with a more permanent fixture. This means that temporary, make-it-work solutions need to be reevaluated for the long term, and new strategies and technologies considered that will better enable and secure remote end users and the resources they need to Make Work Happen®.

Zero Trust Security is the philosophy that every access transaction must be verified, whether through multiple factors of authentication, specific conditions around the device, network and geolocation, or other methods, before an individual can be authorized to utilize any given resource. This model of security, when combined with a cloud-based directory that binds the user with their device under a single, secure identity, is the optimal approach to create a frictionless end user experience that maintains a high degree of security and management capabilities.

JumpCloud is rapidly expanding functionality to enable this permanent change, bringing features like one-touch multi-factor authentication, conditional access policies, cross-OS device management and more to make it easier, more cost-effective and more secure for SME IT teams to adopt advanced security policies and manage their end users effectively. Try JumpCloud Free for your first 10 users and 10 devices to see if it’s right for your organization — test out the full functionality of the platform before committing, and take advantage of 10 days of live chat support for any questions that arise.

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